Authors discuss motivations of suicide bombers

Jackie Mantey

Seventy-two virgins, more pleasure than ever imaginable, flowing alcohol and a future life in paradise.

With a push of a button, suicide bombers await the bliss of the Garden of Eden, the Islamic paradise.

“Why not shorten life here where it is worse and head to a great afterlife?” one failed suicide bomber told Anat Berko.

Berko and Edna Erez, a justice studies professor, are working on a book in which they analyze the people and organizations that are behind the murders of hundreds in the Middle East.

Erez spoke to students and faculty in the Student Center yesterday about their findings and the psychology behind suicide bombings. The event was part of International Education Week, a national program put on by the U.S. departments of State and Education in an effort to encourage policies and programs that prepare Americans for a global environment.

“Our goal is to encourage movement from the United States to overseas and from there to here,” said Ken Cushner, executive director of international studies, about the different events prepared for the week. “We want to create awareness.”

Ordinary People and Death Work: Palestinian Suicide Bombers as Victimizers and Victims is slated to be published in December. The team’s book features seven interviews from detainees in Israel who attempted a suicide bombing but either had a faulty bomb or changed their mind at the last minute.

Erez said the book is more focused on the criminology and victimology of suicide bombers rather than the more common political science approach to the subject.

“We were not interested in deciding if Islam condones suicide issues, but rather if conventional theories of crime apply to suicide bombers,” Erez said. “This side of the issue has had very little said and done about it. We had the unusual opportunity to interview these people.”

The two got the opportunity to interview the criminals because of their connections, Erez said. Berko works as a commander of an Israeli prison for women and has networking with Israeli intelligence.

In the book, Erez and Berko worked to outline the three levels of suicide bombing: the bombers themselves, the organizations behind them and the society in which the individuals live.

The third level was of no interest to the pair as they focused on the individuals themselves.

“We were not focused on society because we wanted to get to the deeper elements of the bombers,” Erez said.

Those elements included the motivations of each bomber, how they got access to the organizations that provide the bombs and how the community affects their decisions to participate in the terrorist act.

“Their society extols the perpetrators as heroes,” Erez said of the criminals, who often come from the Gaza Strip or West Bank.

After hours of interviews with the four women and three men, Erez said they found that there was nothing psychologically abnormal with the seven, and they had several motivations for participating such as patriotism, revenge and means of self-empowerment.

“Many think these people are irrational, but they seemed to be the most rational fanatics,” Erez said. “Their value system is different from ours.”

The detainees were unmarried and young with ages ranging from 16 to 25 and education levels ranging from 3rd grade to 2nd year university students, characteristics that are common in suicide bombers, Erez said.

“They fit the profile. Most suicide bombers are young and unmarried,” she said.

After the interviews, she said they found that the organizations behind the bombings looked for one thing in particular when seeking out followers.

“They told us they look for sad young men,” Erez said.

A significant aspect of the book is the attempt to look at the bombers as victims as well.

For example, one of the women interviewed said she joined a terrorist organization to get back at her father. She fell in love with a man after “looking into his eyes,” but her father would not allow her to marry him because the dowry would not be large enough.

“It was my last chance to marry, and life was useless,” she told Berko.

A large section of the book looks at the use of women by these terrorist organizations, a study that is becoming more popular since the arrest of an Iraqi woman’s failed attempt to detonate a bomb with her husband in Jordan last week.

Erez concluded her speech by telling the audience that it was important to look at all aspects of terrorism, even if it means looking at the criminals as victims to their societies.

“Our interviews bring truth to this issue,” she said.

Contact art and architecture reporter Jackie Mantey at [email protected].